No longer subject to the kingdom of death.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  So too, consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Romans 6:9, 11

Death no longer has dominion over him. 

The Son of God, who shared our human nature in every way except sin, is no longer subject to the kingdom of death, the kingdom which claims the power of pain and decay over everything in this fallen world.

The good news that Jesus preached can be summed up in the simple-yet-earth-shattering truth that God himself broke into this dominion of death to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God, and did what was necessary to offer us citizenship, to adopt us as sons and daughters of the one who sits on the everlasting throne.

In this fallen world, in the kingdom of death, one thing is certain: everything dies; everything wastes away; everything winds up more scarred, calloused, bruised, wrinkled, and broken than it started out.  John tells us that even the ruler of the kingdom of death knows that he himself will be destroyed – and that’s the point: to bring everything to destruction rather than glory.

Christ proclaimed another Kingdom – the Kingdom where everything in this fallen world is turned on it’s head.  The Kingdom where the latter state is better than the first, where, by grace, we learn to let go more of the dirt and dust, more of the pain and hurt as we mature by faith; the Kingdom where scars and callouses are healed and become signs of God’s glory working in us; the Kingdom where true justice is found not in revenge, not by making things fair, but by letting go, as the one willing offering of the innocent Lamb of God covers all the strivings and failings and best intentions of those who were subject to a twisted kingdom whose goal was death and destruction.

Death no longer has dominion over him. 
So, too, consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus

We know that no servant can obey two masters. 

We cannot let there be light while we try to hold on to the darkness.  We cannot learn to live and let ourselves be healed and allow God to make us better and better than we were when we began if we choose to decay, if we choose to heap up scars and callouses, if we choose to cling to worldly wisdom gained through a life of pain, if we choose to cling to, if we choose to value that which, at best, grows old and wrinkled, becomes swollen and inflamed, and goes down into the dust of the grave.

We cannot be subject to the kingdom of death and the Kingdom of God; by your words and actions, and all the way down to the core of your being, you will love one and hate the other; when it matters, a choice will be made.

The Good News of the empty tomb, the Good News of a whipped, beaten, mocked, pierced, and spit-upon man walking and talking with those he loves, with each scar now a glorious sign of God’s power to turn the very worst the world has to offer into life and light; the good news in all of that is that we, too, can be made subjects of that kingdom.  Though we’re still within the borders of this kingdom of death, we can be granted citizenship, armed to live as rebels against the world, the flesh, and the devil – even against death itself – equipped by the Holy Spirit to simultaneously get better and worse with age: that God at work in those who are united to Christ in his death and resurrection takes whatever pain, hurt, and decay the world throws at us for our destruction and turns it into His glory, accomplishing His perfect purpose for us in spite of the failings of the flesh, preparing us for life that transforms us from glory to glory in the presence of God.

But we cannot be subject to both kingdoms.  We love one and hate the other. 
We can only serve one, and must rebel against the other.  Each lays claim to our all.

If we trust in God some of the time; if we trust in God’s power as a last resort, only when money and willpower and science and doctors fail – don’t worry, God’s power is sufficient – if we only trust some of the time, we’ve chosen to cling to the dominion of death.

If we live a life of forgiving others, of giving second chances, and third chances, and seventh chances, and seventy times seventh chances, but hold back forgiveness from that one person who did that one thing we could never forgive – don’t worry, God’s mercy is boundless – but, if there’s something you won’t forgive, you’ve chosen to cling to the dominion of death.

If you’ll offer your time or talent or treasure or commitment to the service of the Kingdom of God, but only when it doesn’t conflict with your existing commitment of money or time or energy to things that rust and decay, to things that grow wrinkled and die, then it’s already clear where your allegiance truly lies.

My friends, we must follow Christ, who came to offer citizenship in the Kingdom of God, who came to equip us to live as rebels in this fallen world.

We must follow Him; it’s not a box of envelopes or knowing when to stand or sit or what words to say; we must follow the one who walked out of the grave because he would not be subject to it!  We must follow the one who let go of worldly ambition or wealth and power because he knew it would only chain us down to a dying world.  We must follow the one who let go of revenge for past wrongs, because he knows it only shackles us to the past.  We must follow the one who offered it all, knowing that, in the Kingdom of God, loss is gain, mercy leads to glory, and even the grave itself is the path to victory.

This day, this glorious day proclaims that, if we cling to something that is passing away; we too will pass away.  This glorious day proclaims that if we cling to pain or hurt or wrong inflicted to us, we will live and die in that pain.  But… if we cling to the one who overcame death and the grave, if we cling to our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom where all things, even death on a cross, work together for the good of those who belong to the Author of Life itself, then, my friends, death no longer has dominion over us, either.  We, too, can go through life knowing that even scars proclaim his glory, and even after this failing dominion of death does it’s worse, we too will rise from the tomb to live in the presence of God forevermore. 

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Death is Conquered

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Yes, today is the day that we proclaim that even in a pandemic, even when things are not at all as we would want them to be, the truth remains: God loved the world so much that He sent His Son to die for us; and rising triumphantly from the grave, trampling down death by death, breaking the curse of our disobedience, and conquering the enemy, he opened the path for us to share in his eternal life.

…And this pandemic certainly has a way of putting things in perspective.

Yes, we’re getting tired of being cooped up.  Yes, we miss the pool, and the library, and the rink.  Yes, we miss dropping in on our neighbours.  Yes, we can’t wait for school to open again (and, if you’re trying to work from home with young kids, yes, we have a new appreciation for our teachers!).

Yes, some of us here today are anxious – those with weakened bodies who would suffer greatly if someone not following the rules brought this invisible enemy to your home.

Yes, some of us here today are grieving – and the pain of grief is real – as plans we had made: vacations, parties, dinner with grandparents and grandkids; and bigger plans like weddings, baby showers, and even funerals are cancelled, as we are confronted in a harsh way with the reality that so much, so much, is beyond our control.

Yet, the pandemic has a way of putting things in perspective. 

Sure, Easter is a time for turkey dinners with family.  Sure, it’s a time to buy flowers and send cards and celebrate eating a month’s worth of chocolate in a single morning.  Sure, it’s a time to celebrate the hope of new life and new beginnings.

But, at a time like this, the message of Easter becomes so much more focused: there is light shining in the darkness; and though the darkness is vast, though the light at times is hidden from view, we know that the darkness cannot and will not overcome the light, that light that enlightens all of us, whether or not we’re able to realize it, as times like these remind us all too well that, in spite of our plans, we’re not all powerful; we’re created.  We’re part of God’s grand design, and every day, every breath is a gift: as we’re reminded that we’re powerless even to plan our next vacation, let alone chart our own path for the future.

It’s about Relationship

You see, we were created for relationship.

We believe, our faith handed down from generation to generation tells us that, from before time began, the love – the life – of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was so great, so overflowing, that God called into being everything that is, He Created you and me, so that we could share in the eternal life of their relationship. 

That’s why we’re here.  That’s why we’re all here – because God wants to share his overflowing life with us in relationship with Him.

But, in that relationship, we children were unwilling to acknowledge the wisdom of our Father.  For us, even one simple rule made for our protection was too much for us.  From the beginning, we wanted to pretend that we’re the masters of our own destiny – that we’re the ones in control, that we’re the ones who make the plans and chart our own course.

…and it’s times like these that remind us just how little control we have.

But the Good News is that, while this world continues to ripple with the consequences of that disobedience, and every selfish, greedy, and prideful action since, Easter isn’t about flowers, chocolate, and bunnies.  Easter isn’t about hoping that we can try harder and maybe do better with a fresh start. 

Easter isn’t even about thinking fondly about an empty tomb in a far away place long ago.

Of course God, the source of life, rose from the dead.  That’s the easy part.  How could the source of life not rise?

No, the Good News of Easter is that God’s desire, God’s Will to share his unending life with his creation is so great that He would come as one of us to fix that one, ultimate reminder that we’re not in control: Death.  Death is that final proof that we’re not in charge.

But God wants to share his life with us so much that He was willingly swallowed by the jaws of death.  But as the grave closed around him, as darkness closed in as it would on any man, the source of life was revealed, the unquenchable light of life shone forth and broke the system.  The gates fell down, the chains fell off, and all those who died saw that death isn’t in control either.  As the Light of Life stood in the grave, there was a new option, a new path that we couldn’t forge by themselves: if we wanted, we could let those chains fall and follow God Himself on the path to life.

And, to do so, there was only one condition: we have to acknowledge that we were made to be in relationship with God.  We have to acknowledge, in the face of consequences beyond our control, in the face of consequences because of the actions of others, in the face of death itself, that He’s God, and we’re not; that God’s the Father, and if we share in Christ’s death by baptism, and follow with lives of repentance on that new path, then we will be sons and daughters, living in relationship, realizing that everything we have, all our strength and health, all that we work for, is dependant on his goodness toward us, and seeing that even the darkness of the grave is not a threat, but is the means through which our relationship with our Father is restored.

Even in dark times like this, because of this day we can stare the darkness in the face, and we can boldly proclaim the truth:

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Death took a body, and met God face to face.
Death took earth, and encountered Heaven.

Christ is risen, and Hell is overthrown!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.[1]

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

[1] Adapted from the Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom